Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
When I became obsessed with Belle and Sebastian back in the late 1990s I started following the Scottish pop scene. I discovered a lot of really good bands that way. That was how I first heard of Franz Ferdinand. They didn't sound all that interesting to me, but I filed them away in my brain as a topic for future investigation. Then before I knew it, they broke big in the United States rapidly becoming the biggest Scottish band over here much to my surprise. "Take Me Out" was all over the airwaves and I saw videos of these sharp-dressed pretty boys playing their dance pop and dismissed them as the Duran Duran of the 2000s. I had some female friends who were really into them and they would come back from shows raving about them but I wasn't convinced. Then I came across a sealed vinyl copy of their debut album in a thrift store and decided to pick it up for a spin and realized that they were better than I thought. This album may be a bit lightweight and derivative, but it is never dull and it gets me hopping. A lot of it is insanely catchy dance pop, like the two hits "Take Me Out" and "This Fire" as well as "The Dark of the Matinee" which has an enticing theatrical feeling to it and some of the most sophisticated lyrics on the record. "Auf Achse," "Darts of Pleasure," "Michael" and "Come on Home" are also designed for the dance floor and really deliver the goods. There is a 1980s flavor to these songs but they are mostly guitar driven rather than synth driven much to my approval. You can also hear art rock-ish elements suggestive of Roxy Music or David Bowie particularly in Alex Kapranos' mannered vocals. The big hooky bass lines and spiky rhythm guitar recall the New Wave funk of Talking Heads or Gang of Four. Some songs deviate from the formula. My favorite song is "Jacqueline" which starts slow like a cabaret song and then the pounding bass kicks in soon joined by a killer guitar riff and an exciting nouveau-garage style song ensues that sounds like the Strokes only better. The riff-happy "Cheating on You" is another first rate rocker that really gets me going. "Tell Her Tonight" sounds like 80s punk-funk in the verses but goes 1960s in the chorus, I find the shifting textures and driving beat very compelling. Almost all the songs deal with romance aside from "40'" which is about a diver contemplating the water below him and features some of my favorite guitar work on the record. As far as intelligent dance pop goes, this album is a real winner. It is relentless in its drive and compulsive beat, I can't sit still when it is playing, but it also has clever lyrics and musical variety. I find a lot of dance pop to be either inane or monotonous, okay for a club or party, but not for listening. In contrast Franz Ferdinand appreciate traditional pop values and write well-crafted songs. I give them extra points as well for their use of Russian Constructivism in their design graphics. Recommended for smart kids who like to dance.